24 May 1975: Prelude to a myth or the genesis of Scottish goalkeeping howlers

Stewart Kennedy

The 5-1 humbling of Scotland today 44 years ago by England has been recalled frequently and often for various reasons. The now defunct British Championship as far as the media was concerned was essentially the meeting between those north and south of Hadrian’s wall. In those days, it was also the only other game to be televised live during the year besides the FA Cup final. That would have been a fortnight earlier. Imagine that kids, all your annual domestic live football in a single fortnight.

In the smaller world of those days, the series had its place and in 1975, despite the tournament having less than a decade to run, Auld and Anglo clashed again in north-west London. The Scottish exodus every odd year in May was a rite of passage if not indeed, the veritable exercising of the national lion rampant. This was no different. I still remember footage of ticketless Scottish fans risking their lives as they grabbed grasping hands to swing them through portals in the Wembley walls. The tartan takeover was so overwhelming you wondered why they bothered having it in England. The cultural overload was complete with Edinburgh’s Bay City Rollers dominating sight and sound throughout the nation. One expected to see the Guards division on parade with tartan down the sides of their trousers. Their trousers at half-mast is probably a stretch too far.

The narrative that always underpins on these occasions is that the result matters more to the Celtic nations rather than England. This is one of those areas where it can be hard to convince in fact, perception or written word the idea of the contrary. The establishment corner will never have the ear of the romantic. The skirl of the pipes trumps the trumpet so to speak. The best way of illustrating this perhaps is the fact that the casual observer tends to be aware of the great Celtic victories against England rather than the other way round.

These things play their part in the preamble and few Scots would be unaware of their 1928 and 1967 victories. The first being a 5-1 scuttling and the latter, a 3-2 Jim Baxter inspired first defeat for the current World Champions since their victory the previous year. This last sentence feels as if it should have in brackets (Azerbaijan sponsored victory) beside it but then you would think this is written by a Scotsman.

The day was to be a bad one for the Saltire. The lion limped home to Euston station with a thorn in its paw. 5-1 to the English. In my lifetime this game became a huge accelerant for the notion of dodgy Scottish goalkeepers which was to run for many a year. Rightly or wrongly it should be said, but once a seed starts and all that.

In the written word there is huge mileage in perception. If we keep it international for the moment let’s say there was certain factual marrow to the idea that Northern Ireland always had excellent goalkeepers with names such as Scott, Gregg, and Jennings. Wales tended to have great forwards such as John Charles, Ivor Allchurch, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush. Scotland seemed to share the remaining pitch space with fearsome midfielders such as Mackay, Bremner, and Souness with the odd sprinkling of charismatic wingers such as  Johnston/(e) and Cooper.

Coming back to spring 1975 goalkeeper Stewart Kennedy of Rangers was about to play his fifth and last international game for Scotland. He took a fearsome hammering after the game for his performance and looked as if he knew what was ahead as the game progressed. He certainly could have done better with some of the goals, but it was his hapless demeanour after each goal which as much as anything had his tartan entrails strewn around the six-yard box.

His ham-fisted clambering around the post following Beattie’s goal was something out of Charlie Chaplin. The post seemed to look down at him in contempt. Fuelled by this his ‘take me out of here’ position and body language were just too supine for such a match. The hairstyle didn’t help either as it really should not have moved out of Glasgow. It was of such a style that it probably wouldn’t have moved in a hurricane. Yet, it probably covered more ground than its owner that day. An excitable David Coleman commentary coupled with a clearly sadistic Anglo-Saxon cameraman put the tin hat on Kennedy’s hair and fate.

In a way, Kennedy gave much more light and oxygen to the belief that Scottish goalkeepers were dodgy. At the time BBC and ITV had their Saturday lunchtime programmes similar to Football Focus today. Usually, in the last five minutes, they would show a few snippets of the Scottish league. It was here that you would tend to see some dubious defence of the net from the custodian in question. The key thing here is that it was concentrated in that five-minute space rather than diluted over the previous hour as enjoyed by the English coverage.

That match set fire to the Scottish goalkeeping heather which would take quite a few years before it was dampened down to a manageable scale. Alan Rough was to be the national goalkeeper for the next ten years after Kennedy. He managed over fifty appearances for Scotland but was tarred with the same calamitous brush, more it should be said from some club performances than international. But those rough club performances always tended to get shown just before your midday meal and the myth started to become fact for many.

Argentina 1978 clearly didn’t help image-wise especially after that opening Peru game. Teofilo Cubillas is about as welcome a name in Caledonia as Edward Longshanks, but the latter certainly is not recorded as having a hammer right foot shot. Rough, in the pictures after both of Cubillas’ goals looked late and ‘bate’ if we lapse into the vernacular.

But most of the goalkeeping damage still came through every Saturday and at various points, it started to become a comedy item, especially with the ‘Saint and Greavsie’ show taking over from On the Ball on ITV. Their show was as much about knockabout comedy anyway as about football. However, you can imagine the mayhem as southern Englishman Jimmy Greaves and put upon Scot Ian St. John administered the last broadcasting rites on various howlers north of the border. It was savage at times and went on for years.

It seemed to subside towards the end of the eighties though Jim Leighton’s public FA Cup humiliation by fellow Scot Alex Ferguson was like another log on the fire. However, he did become a steady keeper for the rest of the decade in the nineties.  It might be fair to say that Craig Gordon did finally dampen out the blaze. The fire hazard if you like though was still Saturday lunchtime football. But as the Premiership sucked all air out of anything else around it, the Scottish goalkeeping war crimes slowly slipped from view and public consciousness.  There is probably nothing to stop the thought that they continue along merrily.

In some ways, Kennedy has probably been buried in the rubble. That English win in 1975 was their only one from ’74 -‘77 as indeed Ray Clemence felt the need to respond in kind the next year to let Scotland win 2-1. The following year in 1977 took even more blast damage away as Scottish supporters rotivated and removed most of Wembley after another 2-1 victory.  24th May 1975. Prelude to a myth or the g in genesis of goalkeeping howlers?